How to Know Which Jobs to Apply for on Upwork

Looking at available jobs on Upwork can be overwhelming; thousands of projects with dozens of applicants. How do you know which jobs to apply for on Upwork? How do you know which applications won’t be a waste of time?

Although you need to focus on quantity when applying to jobs on Upwork, there are several things you can do maximize your time invested.

By targeting clients that are likely to higher you, and then creating a killer cover letter for your proposal, you can save yourself countless hours – and negative reviews.

Consider the following seven elements when deciding what projects to apply for.

1. Confirm that the client has a verified payment method

One of the easiest ways to determine the seriousness of a client is whether or not they have verified their payment method.

If the payment method is unverified, and the project sounds like it’s still in the idea stage, then I pass on those projects. Why? Because I’m an idea person myself. For every 25 ideas I have, I may act on one or two.

However, if a client has a verified payment method on Upwork, then I know that they are at least serious enough to put in their credit card information.

If they’ve already had previous freelancers work for them, then I know that they are willing to invest in the project.

For me: No verified payment method means no proposal.

2. Look at the client’s reviews from past freelancers

If a client has been on Upwork for a while, they should have reviews from other freelancers. These can be incredibly eye-opening!

Do their previous clients like them? Or do they seem to be a pain to work with?

If a client consistently receives poor reviews from freelancers (even 3-4 star reviews) it may be wise to pass on that project – unless you have legitimate reason to believe that you are more qualified to work on this project.

But be careful! I’ve become to cocky in the past, only to find myself working for $10/hr just to finish a project capable of meeting the client’s growing expectations.

For me: Poor reviews mean no proposal.

3. Consider their hourly rate for previous jobs

When considering whether or not to apply for a job, I always take a glance at the average hourly rate of the client’s previous hires. If it sits around $3-10 I am very hesitant to apply.

If someone consistently hires $5/hr employees from East Asia, they probably aren’t looking for the caliber or quality of work that I produce.

But don’t back out of applying for a project just because the client’s hourly rate is low, for two reasons:

  1. Previous projects may have been for low-skill work.
  2. The client may assign most projects on a “by project” basis – which wouldn’t impact their profile’s stated hourly rate.

So this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s still worth evaluating the client’s previously hourly rates when considering whether or not to apply.

For me: Low hourly rate across a wide range of jobs means no proposal.

4. Focus on long-term projects rather than one-off jobs

How to Know if an Upwork Job is Worth Your TimeIf I said that you could only choose one of these two jobs, which would you choose – a $75/hr job or a $50/hr job? Obviously the $75/hr one!

But what if the $75 job was fora single hour, while the $50 job was for 20 hours?

If you’re a freelancer with a wide-open schedule, I hope you chose the second job. Why? Because after one hour of work you’ll have to go find your next client!

Even with a great Upwork profile and new clients contacting me on a regular basis, I average at least an hour of work to acquire each new client. For someone just getting started, that time could easily be 2-3 hours!

So, that one hour job for $75 suddenly comes out to $25/hr. Meanwhile, the second job still averages $45+.

While it is possible to turn one-time clients into repeat customers, you’re better off finding clients who will want repeat business from the get-go.

For me: A one-time project worth under $250 means no proposal.

5. Don’t bother applying to jobs posted more than 3 hours ago (usually)

One thing I’ve discovered from being being a freelancer on Upwork, and hiring freelancers on Upwork, is that the most viewed contractors are those that apply first.

This occurs because a client who posts a new job is eager to get started! They have a great idea and want to find someone to make it happen. So, for the first couple of hours, they will jump on anytime they receive a notification of a new applicant.

After a few hours and dozens of applicants, the excitement wanes. Of course, a great applicant will still be noticed – but those who were seen first will be the comparison group. I seem to receive about twice as many responses from jobs where I am one of the first 1-5 applicants than on jobs where 10+ freelancers have already applied.

Furthermore, if a project was posted a week ago, and the client still hasn’t hired a freelancer, I conclude that the job wasn’t a serious one.

The only time I apply to an older job is if there are few applicants, I am extremely qualified, and I have a few extra minutes to spare (it won’t disappoint me if I don’t get the job).

For me: An old job with dozens of applicants means no proposal.

6. Look at the other applicants

When I am interested in a job with a substantial number of other applicants, the first thing I do is take a look at the other freelancers who have applied.

If they appear competitive in ability and rate, then I won’t waste my time applying. However, if the 6 applicants are not native English speakers, and this project is for a highly skilled blogger, I’ll go ahead and apply. The odds of me being chosen are reasonable.

For me: A large number of highly skilled applicants means no proposal.

7. Consider how well you can do the job

The final evaluation I make when deciding whether or not to apply for a job on Upwork is to consider my own interest and skill level for the job.

When the project is one that I know I will enjoy, I go ahead and apply. Meanwhile, if the job appears boring or overly time consuming, I move on.

Although you want to continually grow your skill set, make sure you are growing it while maintaining a decent level of pay. Most projects aren’t worth minimum wage – even if you’re learning something. Instead, take on jobs you understand and spend your free time growing your knowledge and skill base.

For me: A job that appears boring or time-consuming means no proposal.

Closing thoughts…

I hope those seven tips can help you determine which jobs to apply for on Upwork.

Remember, finding clients as a freelancer is a numbers game – so the more positions you apply for, the more projects you’ll land. However, spending a few moments to evaluate the client and proposal can ensure that you apply for profitable jobs that you will enjoy.

For the comments: Have you discovered tips for filtering out clients? Have you had difficult experiences working with people wanting to under-pay you? If so, share your tips and lessons learned below.

This article is based on a discussion that I had with Heather at LifeWithDebt.co


Rob is enthusiastic about everything related to money and investing. A financial analyst and instructor, he enjoys using what he’s learned from 10 years of studying business and money to help others achieve financial stability. He founded Money Nomad in 2014!

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  1. Hey Rob,

    This is a great rundown of things to consider before applying to jobs on Upwork. For the most part, I stick to these rules, as well. Personally, I won’t apply to jobs that are more than a few days old, but 3 hours is a little tight in my opinion. I’ve hired on Upwork before, and I always like to wait at least a day or two before making a decision on an applicant because I like to receive a variety of applicants.

    Great tips for folks getting started on Upwork! For newbies, these will definitely save you a lot of wasted time digging through the job boards and applying to positions that aren’t the right fit.

  2. Thanks for your input Heather – I’m sure you have much to share from your experiences as well. Let me know when you write an article about it. 🙂

    And depending on how experienced you are on Upwork, several days is probably acceptable. I’ve just noticed that, if after a few hours there have been many high-quality applicants with positive reviews, it becomes harder to land the client. But, for a job you know you are qualified for, certainly still worth applying!

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